More on the DL Situation

Posted: August 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 43 Comments »

We got into a good discussion today about production vs potential. There is no right answer. Even having a general philosophy only goes so far. You really have to study specific details to come up with the best answer.

In the hotly contested Bair vs Kruger debate, there is something that must be considered…the overall DL. Cox, Thornton and Logan are all young. You don’t need to develop young guys behind them right away. That trio could be the Eagles DL for the next 3 to 5 years. Beyond that, the Eagles have Beau Allen and Taylor Hart as a pair of guys they expect to be valuable role players. The Eagles can afford to think about “now” vs “down the road” with the Bair vs Kruger situation.

Another consideration here is just how much talent Kruger has. I was a big fan of his coming out of Utah. I was thrilled when the Eagles took him because I saw a player who could become a good 3-4 DE. We are now in Year 2 and Kruger has yet to show anything on the field that makes you go “Look at that guy!”.

Right now Bair is light years ahead of Kruger. The comeback to that is “So what. Bair is just doing this against 2nd and 3rd stringers.” First response to that is…and Kruger is playing the same guys and not looking nearly as good. What does that say about him?

And Bair did get on the field this week against starters and he held his own.

There seems to be this notion that Bair is some scrub from Pleasantville, USA. As a Senior at Oregon, he had 16 TFLs and 8 pass deflections. He went to the Combine. Check out his numbers vs Kruger.

BAIR – 6-6, 276

40 – 4.93
BP – 26 reps
VJ – 28 inches
BJ – 114 inches
SS – 4.37
3C – 7.07

KRUGER – 6-6, 269

40 – 4.81
BP – 24 reps
VJ – 34 inches
BJ – 117 inches
SS – 4.46
3C – 7.17

Bair is stronger and more agile. Kruger is faster and more explosive. But overall, very similar guys.

I don’t want this to turn into a Bair lovefest. I’m not trying to over-hype the guy. I don’t think he’s some hidden version of JJ Watt or anything insane. I see a backup DL who is playing very well. Right now I think he would be the Eagles top backup DE should something happen to Cox or Thornton.

Here is one of the simplest ways I can break this down…right now we are waiting for Kruger to get to the level where Bair already is. If we knew for a fact Kruger would get there, I’d completely say the Eagles should keep him, even if it took another year.

But we don’t know that Kruger will ever get to where Bair is, let alone better. What has he shown you so far that makes you think he will get to that level?

Years ago, I was totally on the Potential Bandwagon. Over time, I’ve been burned by so many guys that I just knew were going to pan out that I no longer automatically jump to that side of the debate. Coaches will tell you that they have to reward production. How can you call a guy into your office and tell him that even though he’s clearly better you are going with the other guy? Obviously if the competition is close, potential becomes a huge factor. That’s when you do go with the guy with upside. But Bair vs Kruger isn’t close. Kruger isn’t even playing as well as rookie Taylor Hart.

The good news about Kruger’s mediocre showing to this point is that he’s got a very good chance to be on the Eagles practice squad. I would love to see him on there. I still think he could pan out, but I’m not seeing enough to give him a roster spot right now. A year of practice could do him a world of good. Next summer he might win the Bair vs Kruger debate.

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The NFL is set to expand practice squad rosters to 10 this year. That’s great news. It helps with player development, but also with practices during the season.

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Let’s Talk About the DL

Posted: August 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 144 Comments »

This is Year 2 of the 3-4. The Eagles DL has undergone quite a change since the days of the Wide 9 (I still miss Derek Landri). This group is young, big and deep.

Fletcher Cox gets a lot of criticism. I’m not sure how much of it is warranted. He played well in 2013, even as he adjusted to a new scheme and new role. Cox has not been dominant this summer, but I prefer to see what he does in real games before making any serious judgments.

Bennie Logan has been hurt for much of the summer, but did play on Friday. He looked okay, but didn’t stand out. I’m sure he was somewhat rusty. This week will be a better indicator of where he is.

Cedric Thornton is Steady Eddie. He is a terrific run defender. Thornton’s goal this year is to be a better pass rusher.

That is a solid group of starters. They function well together and fit the roles of the 3-4. The backup DL is going to be very different this year. Clifton Geathers is gone. Logan was the backup NT last year, but is now starting.

Based on what I’ve seen this summer, Brandon Bair is the #3 DE. But what about Vinny Curry? He is a playmaker and disruptive force, but is more of a role player than a traditional DE. I think Bair is a virtual lock to make the roster. Some people will point out that he’s going to turn 30 in November and has no upside. Why keep this guy?

In 2011 the Eagles signed an older player with limited experience. That was Evan Mathis and he turned out to be one of the great FA signings in Eagles history. Last year the team added Allen Barbre as a backup OL. He became the #6 OL and is now going to start for a month.

You don’t want to build around older guys, but there is nothing wrong with adding an older player to the rotation. Bair had a terrific showing this spring and summer, then looked even better in the preseason games. He has earned a roster spot and playing time.

Damion Square is the incumbent backup NT, but I don’t see how he keeps that job over Beau Allen. Square has been okay, but Allen has been terrific. I think Allen is a lock for the roster and Square is on the outside looking in.

Curry is going to be the other backup DE. Obviously he will be a key part of the Nickel and Dime units, where he plays DE, DT and even some NT. I know many of you want Curry on the field even more, but he’s just not a great fit for the 3-4. He’s getting better, but still likes to shoot gaps more than anchor and 2-gap.

Taylor Hart would be the #7 DL and have the final roster spot. He played well in camp and has looked solid in the games, but I don’t know that he’s a guy you want to rush into the lineup. He might be a year away from being a good backup. Hart is right on schedule. He’s played well enough that you are going to keep him and would like to see what he could do. If this were 2013, he would be a backup for sure. The DL is better this year so I think he’ll be inactive a lot.

Joe Kruger looks like he needs a year on the practice squad. He is bigger and stronger. He flashes good physical ability at times. But he isn’t consistently good and he still struggles with 2-gapping. Kruger is young and has upside so I hope the Eagles can keep him on the PS, but he’s not worth forcing onto the roster. He hasn’t earned that and his potential isn’t special.

The only other player I’m really interested in is backup NT Wade Keliikipi. He flashes. He has a NT body. I just don’t know that you can keep him on the PS with 2 other young NTs already on the roster.

I know the talk of Bair over Curry and Kruger will bother some of you, but he’s been the best 3-4 DE of the group. The coaches are telling you what they think by how much they’ve played him and the fact it has happened against starting competition. Bair has earned a roster spot with his play. I wish he was 25, but the fact he’s 29 doesn’t change his game tape. He’s been very good this summer. You don’t keep potential (Kruger) over production (Bair) when one guy is clearly better.

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I’ll post the DGR tonight.

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Sunday Night Thoughts

Posted: August 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 70 Comments »

First, some follow-up on the Mark Sanchez-Nate Allen piece from earlier today. While I do think both players have turned things around, I’m still very realistic about who these guys are. I’m not rushing them off to the Pro Bowl anytime soon.

Sanchez is playing well as the Eagles backup. That’s it. SalPal asked the silly question to Chip Kelly about what would happen if other teams called about a trade for Sanchez. As I pointed out in the previous column, Sanchez needs the right pieces around him in order to succeed. Some team with poor QB play isn’t likely to have the right pieces. Sanchez wouldn’t solve their problem.

I do think Nate Allen can be a solid starter. He hasn’t played to that level since his rookie year and I think it is totally fair for many of you to doubt him. His track record is not good. I could be wrong and Nate could lose his starting job by midseason. I’ve just been very impressed by how he’s played this preseason. He’s more confident and aggressive than in a long time. I think he and the starting defense will get into a groove once they play together for a while.

Another point about Sanchez and Allen. I focused on the poor circumstances that had a negative affect on their careers. That doesn’t mean they didn’t play a part in their own struggles. I’ve written about Sanchez and why I think he didn’t succeed in NY. Football wasn’t enough of a priority for him. He was living the good life and being the class clown. Sanchez got a huge piece of humble pie in the last 2 years and seems like a different guy. Allen didn’t have any off-field issues. He just didn’t play well. Part of that was on scheme and health, but part was him just not getting the job done.

Both guys have turned it around this summer.

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Let’s enjoy this while we can, but also be careful about making too much of the preseason.

Last summer Philip Rivers had to learn a new offense. In the preseason, he was 20-33-166 with no TDs and 2 INTs. His QB rating was only 48.3. Things looked bad. Then the calendar turned to September and Rivers had a great season, arguably the best of his career. He finished with a rating of 105.5.

I hope Eli has a miserable year, but I’m nervous about getting too excited about his demise.

I watched part of the Dallas-Baltimore game on Saturday. Dallas was down 27-10 at the half. They did dominate the 4th Qtr and were able to make the final score a respectable 37-30. Looks like it could be a long year in Big D.

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I’m in the middle of studying the Pats game and doing the DGR. I am really impressed with Brandon Bair. That guy looks legit (as a backup/role player).

One other odd note…after 2 games…I think Todd Herremans has been the best OL. Who would have predicted that?

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Circumstances Matter

Posted: August 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 76 Comments »

A lot of kids dream of being an NFL star. Nobody dreams of being an NFL laughingstock, but that is what happens to some careers. You can be a talented player. You can be a former high draft pick. You can even have good seasons on your resume. But the NFL is all about now. What have you done for me lately?

Mark Sanchez was taken in the Top 10 by the Jets just a few years back. He led the Jets to consecutive AFC title games. Those are distant memories. Most people remember him for something completely different…his “butt fumble play” in 2012.

Ugh.

That seemed like rock bottom. Then Sanchez was sent into the fourth quarter of a 2013 preseason game and he suffered a season-ending injury. The fact the coaches put him into garbage time in a preseason game was the ultimate sign that Rex Ryan is clueless when it comes to handling QBs. Sanchez was projected to be the Jets starter at the time. Instead, the injury paved the way for Geno Smith to play and Sanchez to exit New York.

When the Eagles signed Sanchez, all the talk was about the butt fumble. No one wanted to hear about the AFC title games or the things Sanchez had done well for the Jets. Chip Kelly knew Sanchez from when he had recruited him. Kelly also had faced Sanchez in some Oregon/USC  battles. Kelly felt the talent was still there.

With Ryan as head coach, the Jets were a defensive team. Offense was the red-headed stepchild, so to speak. Sanchez had 3 offensive coordinators in his 5 years with the Jets. Even worse, Brian Schottenheimer, Tony Sparano and Marty Mornhinweg could not be more different. Skill players were a mixed bag. When he did have talent, it was high maintenance players like Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. Or in 2012…the Jets leading WR was Jeremy Kerley. Let’s just say James Thrash would have been a welcome addition to that offense.

Sanchez is now in a completely different situation. He is playing for an offensive guru in Chip Kelly. He has a veteran OC in Pat Shurmur who knows the NFL passing game. The QB coach is another veteran in Bill Musgrave. Both Shurmur and Musgrave are experts in the WCO, which is part of the Eagles passing attack. There is symmetry and cohesion on the offensive staff.

Sanchez has access to explosive playmakers. Even as the Eagles backup, he is working with guys like Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews. Just imagine how Sanchez must feel when he gets Shady, Mac, Coop, Celek, Sproles and the backups. That’s a buffet of playmakers.

Now that Sanchez has the right coaches, the right scheme and some talent to work with, you can see how good he can be. I was not a huge fan of his coming out of USC because I didn’t think he was the kind of player you built a team around. I do think Sanchez can be good in the right situation, which he has found in Philly.

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Nate Allen offered a lot of hope back in 2010. He had 3 INTs, 2 sacks, broke up 8 passes and had a FF. A playmaking Safety…imagine that. And as a rookie, no less. Unfortunately he got hurt late in the year and that was the beginning of trouble.

Allen returned to the field in 2011, but had issues with his knee. It didn’t help that he had a new scheme, DC and position coach. And very different responsibilities. The Wide 9 put a ton of pressure on DBs to be run supporters. Allen had one terrific game (vs BUF), but went downhill quickly. Knee soreness was an issue and his confidence disappeared over night. Put on the Pats game from that year and you’ll see Allen at his worst.

2012 meant a new position coach and some schematic adjustments. Then Juan Castillo got fired at midseason and the scheme changed again. Allen played poorly and was benched late in the year.

2013 brought in a new scheme, new DC and new position coach, but finally there was some real cohesion. The staff put the scheme together and everyone was on the same page with how to run it and how to teach it. The coaches focused on fundamentals. Allen was finally healthy and started to look better on the field. Allen started all 16 games. He was 3rd on the team in tackles. He was still too cautious at times. The tape showed him playing on his heels, something you don’t want to see.

This summer Allen got to experience something new…stability. He has all his coaches back. The scheme is the same. He’s healthy. Life is pretty darn good. The Eagles made things even better by signing FS Malcolm Jenkins. Finally, Allen has someone on the field that can help him. Jenkins is a good player with plenty of experience. He’s a natural leader and is pushing Allen to play better.

The Eagles have played 2 preseason games and Allen looks different. He is more confident. He is more aggressive. Allen will never be Dawk or Wes Hopkins, but he can be a quality starter. Allen was supposed to battle Earl Wolff for the SS job, but right now Allen has a virtual lock on the spot.

Allen isn’t a guy you build a secondary around, but he can be a good complementary player. He needs the right pieces around him and the right scheme. Allen finally seems to be in a good situation.

Both Allen and Sanchez are proof that circumstances do matter.

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Thoughts on the Defense

Posted: August 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 172 Comments »

The Eagles have really struggled on defense for the first 2 games and this was supposed to be an improved unit after a poor showing in 2013. Is it time to panic? What’s going on out there?

Let’s talk about a few things.

Curtis Marsh sucks. We need help at CB. There is one important thing to keep in mind with the struggles of Marsh vs the Pats and Roc Carmichael vs the Bears. They are the #6 and #7 CBs for the Eagles.

1 – Cary Williams
2 – Bradley Fletcher
3 – Brandon Boykin
4 – Nolan Carroll
5 – Jaylen Watkins

Fletcher didn’t look very good last week and Carroll could steal his job. Unfortunately, Carroll has been hurt for a couple of weeks. The Eagles need him to get healthy. It is no fun to watch Marsh or Carmichael get torched, but let’s not make too much of guys that aren’t likely to even make the team.

Where the heck is the pass rush? This is a tricky subject. The 3-4 is predicated on fooling offenses and getting rushers into favorable matchups. You do this by being creative. But…in the preseason you don’t want to show too much of your creative ideas. So the Eagles are being vanilla (sorry, I know some of you hate that word). This is not just some convenient coach’s excuse. It is reality.

That said, the Eagles just aren’t getting enough pressure. Even the 3-4 requires players to win some 1-on-1 matchups and get to the QB from base looks. That isn’t happening right now. Part of this may be veterans like Fletcher Cox, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin pacing themselves.

I also think the Eagles need to get the right combination of players on the field together. This means mixing in Vinny Curry with the starters in Nickel and Dime looks. Cole and Barwin as DEs, with Curry and Cox as DTs. Or Cole and Curry as 3-4 DEs with Cox at NT. There are plenty of options.

I don’t know what to say about Brandon Graham. He was relegated to the 3rd team last night. He did have a sack, but was unblocked on the play. I would like to see him mixed into the Nickel and Dime sets if he’s going to be here this year. I have no idea if he is, though.

Competition. The Eagles struggled against the Bears and Pats. Those teams finished 2nd and 3rd in scoring last year. They have good coaches, QBs and skill players. If the Eagles were getting lit up by the Jets, Jaguars or Browns, I’d be a lot more worried.

Bill Davis. Should he be getting more criticism? I don’t think so. This is the preseason. The goals are different here. You’d love the Eagles to go play well and look great, but he’s trying to evaluate individual players and find good combinations of players. That isn’t always conducive to getting top results.

For the sake of perspective, let’s remember that Davis and the D faced Chicago last year in a critical late season game. The Eagles held the Bears to just 11 points and won in a major blowout. Friday night sucked, but let’s keep it in perspective.

Hidden issue. The biggest complaint for me is all the mental mistakes. You see blown coverages. You see players failing to contain run plays. You see players taking poor pursuit angles. I’m referring to starters and backups here. No one group is to blame. Brandon Bokin let a runner get wide of him yesterday on a play that should have just gained a couple of yards. That is a rookie mistake. Being made by a 3rd year player.

I can live with players who get beat by players that are better than them. I can even live with missed tackles. I cannot stand mental mistakes like this. Covering a gifted WR is hard. Tackling a powerful or elusive RB is hard. It isn’t that hard to be in the right spot or to take the right angle.

Davis and his staff really need to get this stuff cleaned up.

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